Conacher, Lionel Pretoria

Lionel Pretoria Conacher, all-round athlete, politician (b at Toronto 24 May 1902; d at Ottawa 26 May 1954). One of 10 children, he grew up in a tough working-class district of Toronto. He got his first taste of sports at Jesse Ketchum School, where he went on to excel at football, lacrosse, baseball, boxing, wrestling, hockey and track and field, and won the 125-lb wrestling championship of Ontario. In 1920, in his first boxing competition, he won the Canadian light-heavyweight championship. The following year he boxed a 3-round exhibition bout with Jack Dempsey, the world heavyweight champion.

Conacher's power, stamina and speed (he ran 100 yards in under 10 seconds) were particularly suited to lacrosse and football. He helped Toronto to win the Ontario Lacrosse Association senior title in 1922. In football he was a ferocious runner and perhaps the best punter in the game. In the 1921 GREY CUP game he led the Toronto Argonauts to a 23-0 victory over Edmonton, scoring 15 points himself. He did not learn to skate until age 16, but his aggressive, determined play made him one of the best defencemen in hockey. He turned professional with Pittsburgh in 1925 and played for the New York Americans, Chicago Black Hawks and Montreal Maroons (1930-33 and 1934-37). Rugged and ready to brawl (even with his brother Charlie), he was an NHL first all-star in 1934.

Conacher entered politics in 1937 and was Liberal MPP for Toronto Bracondale. He was Ontario athletic commissioner and worked to provide recreational facilities in city parks. In 1949 he was elected federal MP for Toronto Trinity. He died of a heart attack after hitting a triple in a charity softball game. Deserving of his nickname, "The Big Train," Conacher was the greatest all-round athlete that Canada has produced. It was thought that Conacher had been enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame but in fact he had not been. This oversight was corrected in 1994. He is also a member of the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame.